1989 January 24 - 1989 March 30
The Tibetan Butter Sculpture exhibition featured ten monks from the Gyuto Tantric Monastery in India demonstrating the sculpting of a Tibetan butter sculpture and was part of the Arthur Ross Exhibit of the Month program. The monks arrived at the American Museum of Natural History on January 24, 1989. The opening ceremony included Museum President George D. Langdon, Jr. and actor Richard Gere. The completed sculpture was on exhibit until the end of March (1; 2, p. 1; 3; 4; 7, p. 46).
The offering of the butter sculpting or "15 Chupas" is part of the Tibetan Buddhist New Year’s celebration, which fell on February 7 in 1989. In 1409, Je Tsongkhapa established the New Year's Great Prayer festival (Mon Lam Chenmo) as a two-week celebration of the Buddha's spring-time miracles (5, p. 1; 1).
The ten monks at the Museum began sculpting the tinted bas relief butter images on January 24. The bas relief images of deities, saints, delicate lotus flowers and miniature elephants, horses and trees were sculpted onto panels of chilled butter, some of which were eight feet tall. Figures depicted in the sculpture included Shakyumi Buddha, the five visions of Tsongkhapa, White Tara, 16 offering goddesses of Chakrasamvara, four protector deities, the seven ornaments of royalty and the mandalas of Guhyasamaja, Vajrabhairava and Chakrasamvara, which were embellished with delicate flowers and leaves (1;5)
On February 16, 1989, monks from the Gyuto Tantric Monastery performed an ancient chanting ritual in the Museum’s Main Auditorium. The Gyuto Tantric monks are known for their unique musical tradition of harmonic chant. Since the deep meditative sound of their harmonic chants are considered beneficial for those who hear them, Dalai Lama gave his blessing to public performances of certain ceremonies. During the chanting the monks wore brocade capes and ceremonial headdresses. During the performance, the monks used hand gestures and Tibetan instruments, such as long horns, thigh-bone trumpets, bells, cymbals and drums. The performance was jointly sponsored by the American Museum's Education Department and Tibet House New York (6).
The monks' last day at the Museum was February 24, 1989. They performed their ritual of harmonic chanting during the closing ceremony for more than 300 well-wishers. The butter sculpture remained on view until March 30, 1989 (3).
This is a condensed summary of the exhibition. For additional information, see Sources and/or Related Resources.
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